One thing is for sure…British politics hasn’t been boring over the last 12 months. 2015 delivered a surprise Conservative majority. The referendum saw the people of this country demonstrate the will and courage to vote for their freedom from the evermore corrupt and authoritarian European Union. The 8th June saw a backlash against the wholly misjudged gamble of the Prime Minister. It was an election which delivered more questions than answers. In Thurrock both the 2015 and 2017 general elections and 2016 local elections demonstrated what a dynamic and fascinating political landscape we have in Thurrock. No Thurrock voter can possibly complain that they haven’t been offered real choice at the ballot box over the last two years.
I’m immensely proud of the campaign that we ran in Thurrock. It was executed like clockwork and focused on the issues that matter locally. Can I say how grateful I am to the 10,112 people who put their trust in Tim Aker to represent them in Westminster. I’ve never met anyone who works as hard as Tim has over the last two years. He has installed this ethic throughout the work we all do. He would have been, and may still be, a wonderful MP for Thurrock. The reason UKIP have achieved so much in Thurrock is that we do politics the right way. No other local party makes itself as open to residents as we do. No other local party has the level of contact with residents that we do. No other local party assists as many local residents as we do.
However, we lost… and lost badly… despite throwing the kitchen sink at this election. Despite canvassing more doors and delivering more leaflets than our opponents. Despite concentrating on the local issues that we know, from the huge amount of contact with residents we have, are most important to them. We polled a very respectable 20% however to be frank we weren’t even close. So that leaves us to ponder why our vote dropped 20% from the local elections last year. The easy answer is to assume that voters went to the polls to elect a government. They were voting in an attempt to get either May or Corbyn into 10 Downing Street. I’m sure that this did play a huge part but there’s something deeper at play and I believe we need to look closer at UKIP as a political party. I’d like to make it clear that this is a personal opinion piece. It’s my own personal analysis of the election and future of UKIP on a national level.
UKIP has put immigration to the top of the political agenda however again and again the way our party has communicated this has been crass, ill-judged and without the required nuance to avoid the party being painted as racist. Our opposition to the current levels and make-up of immigration into Britain have nothing to do with ethnicity at all. They are based on concerns about the oversupply of unskilled labour, the environmental impact of over-population, the ability of our infrastructure to cope with rapid population growth, security concerns and the societal attitudes of some of the people we are allowing into this country. Race doesn’t come into it and I know that this is the case with the vast majority of the members of UKIP.
Our office in Thurrock is a truly inclusive operation. I have personally completed over 1000 pieces of casework over the last two years since I joined the office. Within this figure residents from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities make up around 20%. I know that my fellow councillors find similar proportions of BAME residents coming to them for help. However all too often when I canvass I am accused of being racist despite this record of delivering assistance to the BAME community. More than often these comments come from young white voters. In other instances, I’ve experienced being accused of being sexist or even homophobic. This is despite women making up 70% of the people I’ve assisted and the office being a strong supporter of gay marriage and LGBT rights.
As a party, we need to ask why this is the case and to tackle it head on. Simply blaming the media, and the propaganda spread by organisations such as Hope Not Hate every election time is a cop out. The party needs to take firm and unequivocal action, not simply statements to quash such allegations. If it doesn’t then we will continue fail to achieve success at a national level. However, time and time again, UKIP seems to make elementary mistakes in how it communicates reasonable concerns about immigration and cultural issues. These mistakes leave us open to criticism and millions of voters won’t even consider voting UKIP due to these concerns.
One example of this was our integration policy within our latest manifesto. There are valid concerns within the policy. For example, should we allow people into this country, whether they be non-religious or not, who believe that homosexuality should be a crime punishable by death? Of course we shouldn’t. However instead the presentation of policy was dragged into a discussion focusing on ‘what women wear’. There are no official statistics on how many people wear the Burka or Niqab in the UK however there are in both France and Germany. Using these figures, you can reasonably assume that around 1000 women are wearing them in the UK. I understand the feminist and integration argument against the Burka. However, an issue that affects so few women should be page 127 on a manifesto, if at all, not a headline policy. I myself, do not support a ban.
The real scandal in this country regarding integration, not just in Muslim communities, but also working class white and black communities, is youth mass unemployment. However, this barely got a mention within any of the press conferences about the policy. If people from any background are to integrate then they must have a chance of employment. In addition, the possibility of avoiding employment should be removed. I call on the next leader of UKIP to make the eradication of youth unemployment and related benefit reforms the centre piece of both our economic and integration policy. People can only fully integrate into the wealth of experiences our wonderful country can offer when they have a steady and adequate income. We now have urban underclass ghettos in nearly all of our major population centres often segregated along ethnic lines. They are breeding grounds for drug dependency, crime and radicalisation. This cycle must end. What better way could there be to prove that UKIP fights for all, regardless of race, than to put forward a plan to eradicate mass youth unemployment?
UKIP stands on the edge of an electoral precipice. Our results in this election were abysmal. We may not have won the election in Thurrock but we achieved almost double the share of the vote of any other constituency and were one of only two to even get into double figures. The electoral lessons from Thurrock, a diverse community, are there for anyone who wishes to examine them. We achieved almost 40% of the vote in last year’s local elections. There is no space on the right, the Tories have firmly occupied that space. The only chance the party has is to establish itself as the only centrist party which is committed to nation state democracy. UKIP must demonstrate that it is a party which is truly inclusive, which concentrates on the issues upon which voters actually decide who to vote on. These are the economy, health, housing, crime and the environment. We must be a business-friendly party but one that that ruthlessly fights corruption, fights cuts to our public services, and ensures employment prospects and a decent living for all. We must be socially liberal, the undisputed champion for freedom and liberty. This is a route I believe can deliver electoral success.
I would also question the wisdom of making culture a central part of any new leader’s policy platform. One the other main pledges in our broadcasts was ‘Protecting British Culture’. Voters may have opinions on this but this was not a statement that would have persuaded anyone to vote for us. For starters, what is British Culture? Britishness is not some homogeneous, one-size-fits all, state of being. It means entirely different things to different people with great variation across regional, class, gender, age and ethnic lines. Again, it was a waste of valuable messaging, so clunky that it left us exposed to the same old allegations and worried many voters who may have voted for us if we’d concentrated on some of the other great policies we have within our manifesto.
Getting into a discussion about internment during the election was a PR disaster for the party. Internment, or as it is more commonly known concentration camps, was the biggest recruiting device for the IRA in the entire history of the troubles. Some may wish to make a more reasoned approach by revisiting some of the aims of the 2006 Terrorism Act, I am not one of them. How can UKIP, a supposed anti-establishment party, even consider putting the power to lock up people without them even being charged of an offence in the hands of an establishment we so consistently deride. The same goes for torture and capital punishment? I don’t believe that any government in my lifetime has acted in the interests of us the citizens. I’ll be damned before I put the power of liberty, life and death in their hands.
Above all we need to set out an agenda that inspires people. A set of policies that gives people a sense of hope that we can deliver changes that will improve their lives. We need to put forward a programme that can stop the regression of living standards. Brexit will give this country the opportunity to get back on a path to economic, social and political progress. However, without a detailed and economically feasible plan to deliver progress we will continue to be seen as a one issue party. YouGov’s best party on issues polling demonstrates the scale of the task we face. Only 1% of respondents regarded UKIP as the best party to deal with the economy, NHS, education, and unemployment. Just 2% saw UKIP as the best party to deal with housing and taxation. As long as these numbers remain so alarmingly low UKIP will remain un-electable. With the party polling where it is at the moment Thurrock may be the only place we can win a borough council seat next year. Unless we elect a leader capable of addressing these issues immediately then we could find ourselves wiped off the political map. Many residents in Thurrock may have an opinion on ‘what women wear’ or Sharia law. However, they will not choose who to vote for on these issues.
Choose carefully who you vote to be the next leader of UKIP. If you make the wrong choice then they may be the last leader UKIP ever has. UKIP is seen by too many people as mean-spirited, reactionary, racist and authoritarian party. We need to change this perception and change it quickly.
This article by Luke Spillman was originally published on the Your Thurrock blog and is reproduced here with the permission of the author